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Sydney Opera House unveils historic Concert Hall upgrade

The Sydney Opera House today revealed the transformation of its largest performance space, the Concert Hall. After more than two years of extensive renewal works, the renowned venue reopens to the public next week (20 July).

Funded by the NSW Government, the once-in-a-generation upgrade is the largest and final project in the Opera House’s Decade of Renewal – a 10-year program of capital works totalling almost $300 million to upgrade the World Heritage-listed masterpiece ahead of its 50th anniversary in 2023.

The complex renovation combines respect for heritage with cutting-edge technological innovations, including state-of-the-art theatre machinery and staging systems. These systems better equip the hall in presenting an ambitious range of performances, from classical music to contemporary concerts, theatre and beyond.

The project has improved the acoustics for artists and audiences in both orchestral and amplified mode, enhanced access for people with mobility needs, and provided a more flexible and safer working environment for staff behind the scenes.

Minister for the Arts Ben Franklin MLC says: “The Concert Hall is the beating heart of the Opera House. The renewal of this magnificent performance space will ensure the Opera House remains relevant and contemporary for the people of NSW and the rest of the world. The NSW Government is proud to have supported this important project, which will secure our nation’s most significant cultural icon for the next generation, with a positive and lasting impact on the community for years to come.”

Sydney Opera House CEO Louise Herron AM says: “We’re thrilled to be welcoming the community back to the renewed Concert Hall. Artists and audiences are set to experience world-class acoustics in a venue that is more accessible, safer and better equipped to present the full breadth of 21st century performance. We have been working towards this moment for a long time and are incredibly grateful to the NSW Government and to everyone else involved in making this once-in-a-lifetime project possible.”

Since the venue closed for renovations in February 2020, hundreds of construction workers, acousticians, architecture and heritage experts have been busy delivering the biggest upgrade to the Concert Hall since it opened almost 50 years ago, with all possible care and attention taken to protect and respect the heritage of this treasured performance space.

Enhanced acoustics provide better sound

  • 18 new acoustic reflectors above the stage replace the old clear acrylic ‘donuts’. These ‘acoustic petals’ are set in a range of different positions, depending on the music being played. They have been finished in a semi-gloss magenta – matching the colour of the Concert Hall seats chosen by architect Peter Hall.
  • Special acoustic diffusion panels have been added to the venue’s timber box fronts, allowing for a more balanced and true sound for non-amplified performances.
  • A new state-of-the-art sound system has also improved the venue’s capability for amplified performances.

Cutting-edge staging and theatre systems

  • Automated stage risers will allow musicians, particularly classical musicians who typically sit in a horseshoe formation, to hear each other more clearly.
  • A new automated draping system will make it easier to switch from orchestral to amplified mode, and to dampen reverberation and create a fuller, richer sound for amplified music.
  • The new theatre flying system installed above the ceiling will make it easier and safer to fly a greater range of lighting and scenery, enabling larger-scale, more ambitious performances.
  • The stage has been lowered by 400mm to improve sightlines and create more intimacy between artists and audiences. Backstage areas have also been enlarged.

Improved access and other upgrades

  • new lift and passageway improves accessibility, making it possible for wheelchair users and people with limited mobility to independently access all levels of the Concert Hall, including its spectacular Northern Foyer, some for the first time.
  • Double the number of accessible seating positions, including options in both the stalls and boxes.
  • Two new rehearsal rooms, funded by the late Peter Weiss AO, for artists who use the Concert Hall.

A world-class team of experts including original structural engineers Arup, ARM Architecture, heritage advisors Design 5, theatre consultants Theatreplan, construction firm Taylor, specialist theatre machinery contractor Waagner Biro, building services engineers Steensen Varming, acousticians Müller-BBM and the Opera House’s renewal project team have seamlessly integrated the upgrades into the existing structure. All works have been carried out in line with the Opera House’s Conservation Management Plan to ensure the upgrades respect the original interiors, designed by Peter Hall, the architect who completed the Opera House after Utzon departed the project.

Images and video of the stunning transformation are available to download here.

A fact sheet with more information about the upgrades is available to download here

Thank you to the NSW Government for enabling the Opera House’s Decade of Renewal; and Opera House staff, resident companies, experts and contractors who made this project possible.

Notes to editors
Didgeridoo performance by Matthew Doyle, a descendant of the Muruwari People from Northwest NSW.